Blog Moving

We've moved the blog over to typepad. Please update your RSS feeds and bookmarks accordingly. Thanks! http://springcreekgroup.typepad.com/my_weblog/


Multi-Channel Marketing: A Lesson from Politics

If you've ever signed up to volunteer, donated money, or signaled interest of any kind in a political party and/or campaign, then you are experiencing the leading edge of multi-channel marketing. Ten years ago, online porn and gambling sites led the way in transaction processing innovations (really, they did) and today political campaigns in many respects are teaching us all a thing or two about how to find, connect, and leverage people of similar interests and political persuasions for the purpose of volunteering and fundraising. Andy Sack, the co-founder and CEO of Judy's Book and a former boss, has talked and blogged about finding a topic about which people are passionate as being a requisite for a successful online community. He's right and these days there is no topic many of us are more passionate about than politics. As a result, the political campaigns are being led by their supporters and 20-something staff members to dive into a broad array of social media technologies in an effort to find and engage individuals and communities with similar passions and political beliefs. In 2004, Meetups became an integral part of every campaign. Since then, campaigns have come to recognize the power of user-generated media as practiced by hundreds of millions of people on MySpace, Facebook, Blogs, Twitter, and more. What is happening today is a truly multi-channel approach to getting the message out with clear calls to action to people to including donate money, write letters/email, volunteer, or attend an event. Each of these activities being the bread and butter of American grassroots politics since the birth of our nation. The tactics and scale of reaching people is undergoing a revolution before our very eyes but the response these efforts are designed to engender hasn't change much. What this means for online marketers is that we can and will learn a lot by watching how the 2008 political campaigns identify, engage, and motivate people to act on their behalf. Whether your objectives are to build brand awareness, generate buzz, or increase order volumes, what the campaigns are doing online will provide a blueprint for optimal roles that social and user generated media can play in your marketing mix.


Emerging Trend: Place-Shifting Powered by Mobile Devices

The other night I couldn't sleep and so I reached over to the nightstand and grabbed my Blackberry. I loaded my RSS feeds in the mobile view of Google Reader and spent the next 30 minutes catching up on business and political news. What is really striking about this was how simple and satisfying the experience of reading news and editorial on my Blackberry has become. Adding to the intrigue, I recently picked up a video iPod and have discovered the joys of photos and video on the super-small screen. For years people have been talking about the time-shifting that took off with TiVo and has only accelerated with the explosion of online video. The mass adoption of mobile devices like the Blackberry and iPod has suddenly made place-shifting commonplace. I think it's useful to frame the concept in more general terms than simply watching TV from any laptop or device. Place-shifting is being driven by content as much as it is by a specific medium (TV). It's common knowledge that people are spending more time online and less in front of their TVs because that's where the more interesting and interactive content is. It's not about getting TV anywhere, it's about getting the greatest selection of content. So what are the implications for online marketing? A few things come to mind: 1. Content rules more than ever. Strategies and plans need to be formulated with multiple channels and media in mind. Search still rules but the simplest mobile content channels (RSS, SMS, etc.) will continue to rapidly grow in importance. 2. Interactivity and participation work really well in a mobile world. When developing ideas for interactive campaigns consider the mobile user. Reaching this audience is still relatively difficult to do with compelling content but the barriers to doing so are falling rapidly. Get just a little bit ahead of the curve and incremental improvements to any online marketing program can be the result. 3. Tracking and analytics are lagging. As far as I know, the most popular analytics tools do not provide much visibility into the ways in which the mobile users are accessing and interacting with online sites and content. This will change but it remains a challenge. Place-shifting is real and is increasingly relevant to online marketing. Successful strategies in the days to come will hinge in part to how well marketers exploit the opportunities and avoid the pitfalls of this emerging trend.


What Google's Preferred Cost Bidding Means to Online Marketers

Notable post about GoogleClick over at Search Engine Land today. I have believed since the early days of PPC advertising that the correct way to approach the channel is also the simplest from a marketer's perspective. If, as a marketer, you have a good grasp on the unit contribution of each product/service you offer and if you have a good idea of the margin you are willing to accept each time you sell said product/service, then there is little benefit to spending a lot of time managing bids. This basic rule applies to all media, not just online ads but PPC in particular provides all of the information marketers need to manage their spend in this fashion. The fact that Google is now enabling bid management to be handled in this fashion makes tons of sense and will, as the Search Engine Land post points out, create a significant amount of additional pressure on SEM and online shops to deliver material value to clients. In addition to the marketing services firms that are affected by this new feature, it will also be interesting to watch how lead gen businesses like Service Magic and HouseValues are impacted by it over the long run. Isn't Preferred Cost Bidding really what lead gen is all about from an advertiser perspective?


Is the Web 2.0 Party Over?

A portentous occurrence of late has been the increase in posts and articles about something called "Web 3.0". I suspect this is another a lengthening list of events that signal collectively the end of Web 2.0 as we know (?) it. (full disclosure I worked for a year for a company that was labeled proudly a Web 2.0 company) In any event, it will be interesting in the coming months and quarters to see what happens to the thousands of Web 2.0 companies out there that received positive attention from the Web 2.0 Kingmaker along the way and are still in search of big-time monetization opportunities as they await the call from the corp dev guys over at (pick one) Google, Yahoo, News Corp, IAC, Microsoft, ... Given the manageable burn (this isn't 99) of the well-run companies in this space and the still-low cost of VC capital, any shake-out will take time. Based on conversations I've had with some of the local VCs and CEOs, the commodity that is increasingly in limited supply is the patience of investors.


Web 2.0 Seattle Companies - The Roundup as of early 2007

Web 2.0... Web 3.0... (I'm personally waiting for someone to appoint themselves the true futurist of all things Internet and write an article about what Web 4.0 will be all about. Maybe it will be like the fashion industry and we'll just enter a continuously repeating cycle of mining trends from 15-20 years prior and Web 4.0 will kickoff in 2018 with another cycle of wacky niche online retailers, a la 1998....) Well, let's assume that at the moment we're still firmly in the middle of the Web 2.0 era. In line with that, John Cook over at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer did another roundup recently of the long, distinguished list of Web 2.0 companies in the Pacific Northwest. An interesting read and a handy bookmark for people who like to "kick the tires" on a new company that they heard about over cocktails in Belltown... Here's the link to John's Pacific Northwest Web 2.0 company list. And, incidentally [begin self-promotion] Spring Creek Group is associated with a few companies on this list or soon to be on this list...[end self-promotion], so we're big fans and supporters of several of these local companies too. Cheers.


Clever Obama Campaign Video or Genius iPod Product Placement?

A week or so ago, this video started showing up on left-leaning political blogs like Daily Kos. For those of you that don't remember the original Apple ad upon which this is based, it ran only once during a Super Bowl. In spite of its limited run, it received a tremendous amount of favorable coverage and still gets shown as part of marketing classes at universities around the country as an example of truly creative, effective advertising that works on multiple levels. But I digress... I caught a bit of the discussion about the video tonight on Keith Olbermann's MSNBC show where they speculated about who was behind it. Could it be Obama's campaign, a conservative outfit, or someone else? Over the course of the conversation, they showed a loop of the video. As I watched, something caught my eye. So, I sat down at my computer, found the video on YouTube and went through it frame-by-frame to be sure I wasn't imagining it. Here's a screenshot: Notice anything? Clearly Olbermann and Cilliza did not as they speculated on who would have the motivation and the ability to do such a thing while forgetting the obvious suspect: Apple and/or their agency of record (TBWA\Chiat\Day) Unless, I've lost my mind, I could swear that's an iPod clipped to her waste band and iPods weren’t even a glimmer in Steve Job’s eye back then. My guess is that based on recent coverage of Obama's "rock star" treatment in front of adoring crowds around the country, Apple realized Obama's got some serious mojo and is perceived as someone new, fresh, and disruptive in politics today. Based on this not terribly original insight, they found an extremely clever way to generate HUGE free publicity and PR for their corporate image and the iPod. What's more, if it is Apple behind this then they picked a target audience that is PERFECT at both the strategic and tactical levels for this to work. Political blogs are the most heavily trafficked in general with well educated readerships that are young(ish) and engaged. In addition, a lot of these folks are also active in online communities including Flickr, MySpace, and Facebook. Not saying it’s Apple but they are the odds on favorite in my mind. I just can’t think of a simpler explanation for the iPod showing up in multiple frames throughout the video and you know what William of Occam would have to say in response. It's there for a reason and the simplest explanation is there's a commercial purpose behind it. One final thought on this relates to what the video actually is. I've tried not to call it an ad in this post for a reason. It's not one. No one has paid a dime to place it anywhere. 100% of the distribution has been for free if you don't count the time schleps like me have spent posting it on blogs. That's interesting for a couple of reasons. First, I suspect that means it's not governed by campaign finance laws (not positive but it would stand to reason). Second, its yet another demonstration of the willingness of individuals to spread a message when it's packaged creatively and distributed for free. Update: Nevermind.

Micro-Communities that Customers Actually Trust

This month's Fast Company is required reading from beginning to end: a fascinating article about Wikipedia becoming the de facto taxonomy of the web (and challenging Google's dominance of "trusted search" in the process), a great profile of a design shop with complete authenticity, and some empowering tools for socially responsible investors. A little one-pager that caught my eye as well, though, is about "Building a New Nest" -- companies that have cracked the challenge of building trusted online communities that actually create value for their customers without (obviously) using it as a marketing opportunity. Of course, the message of these examples is: deliver value and people will thank you, and reward you, for it. Give it a read here. [Fair warning - you need FC's little code from page 10. But that's my own little plug for you to go buy the issue if you don't already receive it -- it's well worth it.] We often get asked whether or not potential customers will really trust a company's community - "why wouldn't they go find another community to talk about these things?" This little article is just a nice, concise proof-point that occasionally companies get it right. The key takeaway is: "Make it useful, unique, valuable, and trustworthy... and if you don't abuse the trust, you'll be rewarded for it." Sounds obvious, but it's hard to get right. And those are the principles for fostering a good community out in the "real world" too.


ShoppingPath Shopping Comparison UI

I came across this post about ShoppingPath's cool new product comparison UI on Read/Write Web tonight. If you have a minute, you can try it out here. While it is no doubt a creative presentation of important information to anyone in the market for consumer electronics, I'm not sold on the idea that it offers a more effective means of merchandising for anyone with an interest in selling products. It no doubt is fun to play with but as a tool for people to actually shop with, I didn't find it all that helpful. The larger point is that creating stickiness in a retail context is only as good as its ability to convert shoppers into buyers. At the end of the day, shoppers seek satisfaction through the purchase of goods and services. To the extent that a site can make that experience more fun and enjoyable along the way then everybody wins. In addition to ShoppingPath, there are other sites out there, Mpire immediately comes to mind, that are also doing innovative things with aggregated price and product information. The question remains how do/will these new and different approaches lift click-through and conversion rates thereby displacing the dominant players in the comparison shopping space?


Economics of Ad-Based Online Businesses

Jeremy Lieuw on the Lightspeed Ventures blog had an interesting post a week ago positing a thesis about the realities of growing a site's annual ad revenue to $50M. The key take-aways as summarized here by Tim O'Reilly:

  • At the $1 RPM (CPM/CPA/CPC) level achieved by most general sites, you need 4 billion page views/month.
  • At the $5 RPM level achieved by demographically targeted sites, you need 800 million/month.
  • At the $20 RPM level achieved by highly targeted sites, you need 200 million/month.
These numbers are pretty telling. Building an ad-based online business is hard in particular when you're counting on an exit for the investment of time and capital to pay-off. An interesting side-note to the original post is its focus on top-line revenue as the core metric used to establish the value of an online ad-based business. In the short run, it might not make much difference to a VC whether one uses revenue, income, or EBIDTA to value a business but it signals, what I think is a dubious perspective. I question the value of this perspective to entrepreneurs because while revenue is necessary it alone is insufficient to create a growing, sustainable business. What is both necessary AND sufficient to fuel the growth of an online ad-based business is a talented team, a great idea, and, last but not least, cashflow and profits as early as possible. Focusing on top-line causes one to lose site of where the value and leverage needed to invest in and grow our business really comes from which is, in every industry of every kind, the same thing: cashflow.


Time Spent on Google, Yahoo!, MySpace, and other sites

Compete.com released data a while back estimating the amount of time spent online across 20 sites. Don Dodge gave an informed take on this data here. One of the points that missing in all of the discussion is the practical utility of the information presented. That is not to say that it's not interesting to ponder on a macro scale how much time a person chosen at random is spending on MySpace, Yahoo, and other sites. My point is that the value of information like this presented in this way is limited. The basic reason is that people are different and the contexts in which they use a MySpace verses a Yahoo! verses a Google are different also. For example, my mother has never and will never spend a second on MySpace eventhough she's online a couple of hours every day. So, in addition to providing interesting data what I'd love to see is data that is useful as well. For starters, how about slicing the time spent by a few basic demographic dimensions (age and gender)? Then we'd have something to talk about...


Chris Anderson on Next-Gen PR

The always interesting Chris Anderson has an interesting post up about the direction in which PR is heading online. By and large, I agree with his perspective as well as the tips for basic blocking and tackling at the end of the post. The only comment worth adding is that as transparency increases a greater burden is placed on the shoulders of the PR folks to know more than what they're pitching that day. They need to know the product, the market, the industry etc. so that they can initiate and carry on informed conversations on behalf of their clients. Another example of how traditional agency models are being disrupted these days.


A Picture Tells One Word

And that word is "Iraq". Edward Tufte has told this story before, but I always feel like it bears repeating when I see a website utilize a clever and compelling graphic device to communicate a concept more effectively than a thousand words ever could. In a quick follow-on to the State of the Union address tonight, the New York Times website propped a terribly insightful interactive graphic (yea javascript - the floating cursor hand of insight) displaying keyword density in President Bush's addresses since taking office. Keyword volumes - and placement! - are displayed on a simple chart for such hot terms in American foreign policy as "Iraq", "Afghanistan", "Medicare", "Oil", and the like. Check it out - Tufte must be cracking a smirk somewhere that all that news that's fit to print now also includes all the interactive graphics that are fit to post...


The DNA of Marketing Strategy

One of my favorite concepts relating to online marketing and commerce is the "Architecture of Participation". Coined by Tim O'Reilly a few years ago, the idea behind the term is that pages, sites, and networks should be built with the notion of user participation in mind. Likewise, online advertisers and marketers are coming to understand the importance and value of constructing campaigns and creative in ways that engender active responses and contributions from consumers. In biology, a genotype is essentially the genetic code (DNA) that an organization carries around with it in each of its cells. A phenotype is the expression of that genotype in the form of features, chemistry, behavior, etc. While the former is the product of conception and does not materially vary over time, the latter evolves and changes through the infinitely complex interactions of specific genes and environment. Interesting (perhaps?) but what does this mean in the context of marketing today? Glad you asked... I find the analogy useful because it makes a clear distinction between what is knowable (the sequence of DNA) and what is virtually unknowable (looking at an individual's DNA and using that to predict his height, hair color, weight, personality, etc.). Today, we're still in control of the DNA of our marketing strategies and messaging but what those actually look like once consumers begin to participate in our campaigns is fraught with a lot more uncertainty. In the next post, I'll share some ideas we have around how to embrace and benefit from the new order of things that puts consumers in the drivers seat.


The Future of Creativity?

Interesting story over at BrandWeek about the commodification of creative. What's most interesting about it is that the angle of the story is exactly backwards. Creativity is precisely what is NOT being commodified. The assets and activities that are being commodified as interactive emerges are distribution (low margin, high-volume), media planning and buying, etc. These days I scratch my head at the thought of contracting with an agency to whom I'm expected to pay big bucks to cover massive overhead from which my business accrues zero incremental value. It doesn't make business sense particularly when one considers the fact that agency business models are heavily weighted in favor of creativity and against performance. Crazy. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend watching a Frontline piece titled "The Persuaders" about the Advertising industry. In particular, Bob Garfield is interviewed and he has, what I think, are some terrific insights into the confounding nature of the industry today and how it has sown the seeds of its own disruption at the hands of massive amounts of data including campaign and creative performance information (ROI). One of my favorite story lines in the piece is about Delta's Song airlines and how "creative" their branding and marketing campaign is to be. At the same time, Garfield (who I think is spot on) acknowledges the obvious that in today's world, the product and the experience consumers have with it is what matters most of all - more than sizzle, more than buzz, more than anything else. You can reach more people with fewer dollars as long as the product delivers. Exciting times if you're more about the steak than the sizzle.

How to Succeed...

2006 was the year that a critical mass of companies marketing to consumers recognized to some degree that communications, advertising, and marketing are now dynamic and two-way. It will be interesting to see how quickly this recognition gets internalized and begins to manifest itself in the form of different revenue models and organizational structures for agencies and firms whose value proposition it is to help companies create awareness and drive sales. We beat the drum of joining the conversation with consumers regularly on this blog and in conversations with clients. We look forward to picking up the pace and intensity this year. For a terrific summary of core principles to market by in 2007, check out the excerpt below from a Business 2.0 piece. (hat tip to AdPulp)

Jeff Hicks
President and CEO, Crispin Porter & Bogusky
Make Your Brand Part of the Conversation
There are three things I think about the most when it comes to making it as a marketer these days. The first one is there's no amount of money I can pay to get my commercial in front of you, because you can powerfully edit what you spend time with. So my job as a marketer is no longer to interrupt, but to produce content that is so relevant, interesting, entertaining, and involving that my best consumers won't want to live without it. The second thing is understanding that instead of brochures and trade shows, marketing now really begins with the product. Great companies are investing a lot of time and attention into trying to make products that market themselves. The last piece is that user-generated content has made it possible for consumers to own your brand, and if they don't, you're not doing your job. The brands that are adopted, blogged about, and parodied the most are the ones that are going to win because they're involved in the evolution of pop culture. If you're scared to have your brand played with, you're going to be left behind.
Great advice and it will be interesting to see which companies head down this path, what the most successful strategies and programs look like, and how it will continue to be fueled by the architecture of participation permeating the Web.


20 Questions

If you've read any write-ups of the popular toys this Holiday season, no doubt you've heard about 20 Questions. I have to confess I was a little late to the party. You can play it online here. It is remarkably accurate and quite addictive. A good example of the "Wisdom of the Crowds" at work...


Lots of sizzle but where is the steak?

Clay Shirky's got a really insightful analysis of Second Life up on Valleywag. I share his skepticism of the longterm potential for SL to transform the way most of us conduct commerce or find entertainment online. After having used it a bit, I came to the conclusion that it required too much time to get started and to figure out. No doubt it appeals to some with the time and inclination (I suspect many of devotees played D&D growing up or would have had they come of age in the 80s) to explore and learn the rules and mores to get along and prosper. Once I had arrived and starting walking/flying around, I quickly realized that it would take me a long, long time to capture any potential benefit. As a father, husband, and business owner I simply don't have the time to spend or desire for a "virtual" payoff. What I do see when I read about or go to Second Life is really clever marketing and promotion. Every mention of the community is accompanied by a quotation of the number of registered users which is, to Shirky's point, a misleading figure. Nevertheless, the power of that 2MM number compels people like me to register, download the software, install it, and enter the world. For online communities that need PR and buzz to build interest and a user-base, this number is vital. People intuitively understand the concept of network effect as applied to online communities and when they hear numbers in the millions, that's enough for some to wonder if they're missing a mindblowing, amazing time. So they register, check it out, and then leave never to return. I suspect the same can and will be said of advertisers drawn to the hype like moths to a flame...


Radical Transparency

Chris Anderson has a series of really interesting and provocative posts up about creating truly transparent media content and properties on the Web. Start here and read each of the posts that follow Take-aways:

  • Be where people are. Jeff Jarvis writes about this concept regularly. It's the notion that media must find where people are and take the information, video, music, games, etc. to them. The days of controlling the pipe are numbered.
  • Keep the door open. Giving readers, listeners, and/or viewers the opportunity to not only respond but also participate in the shaping of the content over time is a requirement. That's the only world kids and teens know today and the notion is spreading.
  • More is more. The more you share with your audience, as long as it's of value to some number of its members anyway, the more they will trust, respect, and value your contributions in return.
  • Wikis, Blogs, Web2.0 Mean 0. For most people, these words let alone the concepts behind them mean absolutely nothing and spark very little interest or curiosity. Nevertheless, the principles that Anderson calls out in this series of posts are what are driving the continued growth in the utilization of these technologies and systems as a means for individuals to express themselves and connect with others.
Do yourself and read his posts when you have a moment.

Google and Offline Ads

There is a story (premium link) in the Wall Street Journal today about Google's entry into the offline advertising marketing (print, radio, etc.). We've written about this issue here. While it is truer now than ever that Google presents a major threat to the old-line advertising agencies, it is also true that Google's entry into the offline advertising market is easier said than done. With respect to radio and print, much of it is local. And selling locally means putting feet on the street. Today, Google does not have a salesforce that fits this mold. Anecdotally, I'd venture to guess that much of the growth of AdWords has been powered by a combination of an extraordinarily low-risk cost of entry, terrific return on investment in most cases, and phenomenal word-of-mouth. In other words, the service is so good, its customers drive awareness and it sells itself. Selling print and radio spots presents an entirely different set of challenges for Google as the article points out. A logical move for Google to make if it's serious about entering the offline ad markets is strategic alliances with and/or acquisitions of media (newspapers) and/or directories (yellow pages) that already have large salesforces with existing relationships with all of the local ad buyers.


Ad Industry Coopetition

There is a really good piece by Joe Marchese up on MediaPost. The thesis is that Google is delivering transparency and accountability to advertisers that heretofor have been missing from the services delivered to advertisers by traditional ad agencies. We've written a bit about this from time-to-time on this blog. See here, here, and here. Suffice to say, we firmly believe that advertising is heading in the direction of greater transparency and accountability. Given the entrenched business models and compensation structures, that's a transition that's easier said than done for many large advertising and pr agencies. Value chains are being remade to leverage the data and information that is now available to customers and producers. The benefits of the availability of this information are flowing directly to the producers and customers. The traditional service providers (distribution, pr, advertising, retail, etc.) in the middle are getting squeezed bigtime.


A Better Mousetrap

I LOVE Kayak.com. Still not sure what they're business model is, I haven't researched it enough, but I'm guessing they're working out deals with all the sites and services they crawl to aggregate results for users on a referral basis or something. In any case, this is a wonderful example of a FREE service that delivers huge value to users by saving you time online AND money. Simple design, clean interface, and it "just works" without extra bells and whistles. Looking at how Farecast and others are also evolving their services is really encouraging as well. Check them out...

A tall drip with room for billions in American GDP

As I walked into my neighborhood Tully's coffee shop - Wallingford represent - this morning to settle in for a few hours of work, I took a quick look around. The place is packed - it always is since they went to free wi-fi. 30 of my closest strangers are all cranking away on laptops, reading docs, one woman is laying out what is obviously a contract-work photography project, another is talking on a cell phone about "not wanting to lose this deal", and there are two separate job interviews going on. My business partner, not terribly surprisingly, happens to be sitting over in the corner doing some market research for one of our clients. I wandered over and made the joke that's being made all over the country these days, the irony being in the context not the language: "Another day at the office!" Then I did a little mental math: at any one time there are probably 10 people or more in the high-end coffee shops all over this country doing services, contract, or some other kind of work that doesn't require them to be in the middle of a skein of cubicles. Let's say they average $50/hour in comp for their work. That's 5 or 6 grand a day in productivity getting cranked out of just one retail coffee outlet. I'm guessing that there are north of 20,000 Tully's, Starbucks, Peet's, Zoka's, Seattle's Best, mom-and-pop cafes, and wherever else has tables and good coffee and will let you linger for a while if you want across the lower 48. Assume for sake of argument that only 25% of these places are actually located in urban centers with an abundance of the mobile, flexible, services workers who fit the remote productivity profile I've painted above. That's almost $10 billion a year in GDP getting served up along with all the caffeine and scones. Now I think I'll have a refill and get a little more work done...


Google is an extension

When thinking about the experience you want people to have with your brand, your media, your product, your shopping experience, etc., one of the first things you should ask is how they are going to find "it" (whatever "it" is). The answer in most cases is search. Not the search on your site but rather the search out there. The Other search. The search owned, operated, and controlled by Google and others. In this sense Google is one of the most potentially powerful "features" your site can and should enable. SEO is the enablement of this feature. If your site doesn't pop on the first results page for the keywords you care about, then the feature is broken and it needs fixing. Potential customers won't find you and will go to a competitor instead. Search engine discoverability enabled through effective SEO is one of the core features your site needs in order to deliver an exceptional user experience. Make it so!

Photo Sharing in NYT

After posting yesterday about photo sharing at the Death Cab for Cutie concert, I saw this article on the front page of the NYT this AM. Digital cameras (including those integrated in cell phones) are everywhere. Snapping (is that an antiquated term at this point?) and sharing those pictures and videos is behavior typical of more and more teens and twenty-somethings. If "experience" is part of or entirely what you are selling, think about ways to incorporate the process of "documentation" into your product or service experience.


Death Cab for Cutie

A few observations from last night's Death Cab for Cutie show at the Key Arena in Seattle: 1. The band is good, even when seen in a pretty large venue. Go see them if you like their music and have the opportunity. 2. Concerts today are not like how they were twenty years ago. As far as we could tell, there wasn't any smoking, drinking, or some such craziness like there would have been fifteen years ago at a show like this one. Not sure if it was the band or what but many thousands of really well behaved high school and college kids comprised the crowd. Kind of nice but also a little disconcerting. Come to think of it, what societal norms and cultural taboos do teenagers today rebel against? Or is the whole concept of teenage rebellion so last century? 3. Cell phones aren't just for calling people. During the slower songs in the set, hundreds of people held up their phones, illuminated the screens and waved them back and forth. Cell phones have replaced lighters at rock shows evidently. What's more, anyone with a phone was taking pictures of the scene, the band, etc. I can only imagine how many of the images and videos are today part of thousands of Seattle-area teenagers' MySpace pages and posted up on YouTube. If I were Death Cab or any other band for that matter, I'd do whatever I could to get members of the audience to take whatever video, audio, and images they want and share them with all to see. Unbelievably powerful (and cheap!) promotion... To wit, here's a video from an earlier Death Cab show shot on someone's cell phone: Wild, wacky stuff...


The Agency Party is Coming to an End

So according to this story in Ad Age, Google is offering a small, select group of advertisers the opportunity to buy radio ad inventory through AdWords. The service is called Google Audio. There is certainly some wisdom to this in that it expands the size of the market for radio advertising thereby driving up competition for necessarily scarce audio ad impressions. Economics 101. From Google's perspective, the more AdWords becomes a full-service platform offering advertisers the opportunity to bid on ad inventory across multiple channels (Web, print, radio, TV (anyone know if Spot Runner and Google are talking these days?)). By combining a low cost of entry auction model with inventory across multiple channels, Google can become the first and last place advertisers need to go for campaign management and reach. Smart, savvy, and entirely within the realm of possibility. A question this raises is what, if any, impact this new, more integrated, and more dynamic pricing and sales model will have on the radio industry in general. By exposing the true market-value of radio ad inventory to advertisers, will Google Audio have the counter-intuitive effect of putting downward pressure on advertising radio rates in general? Competition in the "long-tail" of radio ad inventory will certainly increase and drive up effective prices for those spots, but what about the drive-time spots? Will advertisers continue to spend as much as they have given the additional visibility they'll have into what's happening in the market for similar kinds of ad impressions? When you add the two together (tougher to sell ads at "premium" rates, easier to sell ads at off hours etc) do publishers stand to gain or lose? It is truly fascinating to see how the Web in general and companies like Google in particular are driving a new level of competition and transparency in markets that have been closed since inception. By offering market-driven, dynamic pricing and virtually real-time performance data, the likes of Google and others are creating a vastly larger and more efficient market for advertising. While the promise of more transparency and accountability from publishers to advertisers makes for exciting times if you're a marketer (or a performance-oriented marketing services firm like ours at Spring Creek Group), it no doubt makes traditional advertising and "traditional" full-service marketing agencies more than a little nervous. Afterall, a lack of transparency is what created the opportunity to charge a hefty percent of spend with little-to-zero accountability for the end result. As the market becomes more efficient, the longstanding revenue model for the established ad agencies looks more and more like its history.


The 3 Characteristics of Successful Viral Campaigns

I've been musing about this topic lately -- what is the difference between the email, video, post, article, site, forum, service, widget, or whatever that "goes viral" and the one that just hangs out there languishing ad infinitum without achieving the reach, awareness, and traffic that it's creators had hoped for? Well I may not have the complete answer, but here's my summary perspective on the 3 key characteristics that seem to spark and sustain viral phenomenons. You might say, "it can't really be that simple, can it?" I think it just might be. Have ideas or opinions to take umbrage with, or complement, mine? Feel free to add your comments to this post. The more laughter, adrenaline, or money it creates for web users, the more likely it is that THIS post will go viral too... Oh, and a couple points of definition to qualify my statements below. "Quickly" means in two minutes or less, and "for free" means really, truly no financial cost now or in the future. And one more thing: possessing not just one, but instead two or all three of the characteristics below has a multiplicative effect on the speed and reach that something goes viral, in my view. Cheers. THE 3 CHARACTERISTICS OF SUCCESSFUL VIRAL CAMPAIGNS: 1) It dramatically entertains quickly - for free 2) It dramatically surprises quickly - for free 3) It makes or saves people money - for real - for free


Media are Social

Read this post by Jeremiah about the PR industry being slow to understand let alone embrace the perils and opportunities brought about by the emergence of social media. In today's media and communications world of interactive everything, rather than talking about social media as a discrete entity to be analyzed in isolation, it's more important to internalize the fact that any digital medium is, or will be very soon, social. Unlike a few years ago, today there is a person, an audience, a market on the other end with the ability to not only read and/or listen to your message but also to respond. When Tim O'Reilly coined the term "Architecture of Participation" to describe what soon became fundamentally understood and embraced by any company doing Web 2.0 work, the notion of media being social is essentially what he was getting at.


Part 2: Changing Climates for Microsoft and Google, Desktops and Webs

A terrific followup to Part I. (Posted earlier) Stepping back from the technical complexities involved in the Google - Microsoft face-off, it's incredibly exciting to recognize we, as information users and consumers, are on the cusp of yet another seismic shift in communication modalities. In other words, strap yourselves in...


While we're on the subject...

Brad Feld's post refers to an article titled "Changing Climates for Microsoft and Google, Desktops and Webs". Terrific read about the changing landscapes of personal computing, software, and media.

As the robber barons found out, when a railroad achieves critical mass you make a boatload of money. Better yet, once that track is laid it's very difficult to move aside. Like any good robber baron, Microsoft would love for Google to compete on the same field where Microsoft owns all the rails and most of the trains. In fact, that kind of GoogleOS is Microsoft's wildest fantasy come true. Microsoft would be fully capable, and would probably relish the opportunity, of roughing Google up, dragging them through the mud and sending them on their way - just like they did with Sun, Apple, IBM, Netscape, Novell and Digital Research.
There's more. A lot more. Check it out.

Let the OS games begin!

Brad Feld's got a good, first-person review of his experience with Vista. You can find it here. Of note is his preference for the way Vista "just works". Given the recent reviews of Zune, those are welcome words to Redmond I'm sure. As the Vista roll-out gains steam, it'll be interesting to see what percentage of installations are done on existing hardware v. installations bundled with new hardware purchases. The latter will likely delight most while the former sounds like it could be a nightmare for all but the most robust HW configurations. Caveat emptor. How many of you expect to upgrade to Vista in the next 6 months?


The masses are smarter than "Top Secret"

Fantastic article in yesterday's (December 3, 2006) New York Times Magazine entitled "Open-Source Spying". Central premise is that, surprise surprise, the intentional "air gaps" - or connectivity holes - between the various intelligence agencies databases and information management systems have proven to have a larger negative effect (inability to efficiently connect, corral, and rank importance of particular types of information that live on multiple platforms) than the original intended positive effect of that architecture (keep stuff secret -- from the public and maybe from other, no-good, not-to-be-trusted competing government intelligence agencies). One of the other slightly more surprising takeaways, at least from my standpoint, was that good intelligence analysts are largely giving up on "internal" information sources/flows to stay on top of their subject matter, and are instead spending more and more time on Technorati, Google, and any number of other public information exchanges because the info is better and the tools they provide to find, organize, and manage information are so much more efficient. And as one guy pointed out, hardly anything that the bad guys are doing these days is really 'secret' anymore anyway... it's all out there in the open, it's just sufficiently fragmented to make it hard (but not impossible) to piece together into a cogent whole. Related tangent: the illustrations that graphically depict the relationships between terror information nodes by Lisa Strausfeld and James Nick Sears/Pentagram that accompany the article are strangely beautiful. They look like airplane contrails in the night, but depict relationships between the people and events that led to September 11th, 2001, and earlier terror attacks. And they reminded me instantly of the artwork of Mark Lombardi, who was doing his own hand-drawn charts of information and financial flows related to the U.S. government based on his own research back in the 1990's. When you see how right he got it in his 1999 drawing depicting the connections between George W. Bush, Harken Energy, Jackson Stephens, and numerous Saudi royal family members including Osama Bin Laden between 1979 and 1990, it's obvious how just ONE smart guy doing deep research and linking it all together out there among the great unwashed, no-classified-access masses is worth a thousand gumshoe bureaucrats toiling away. (Note to Sergei and Larry: If you're not too busy counting your billions these days, how about you send some of your legion over to DC to wire up "Google Government" to crawl and index all that latent, aging super-secret data sitting "too classified to share" on hundreds of dusty gubmint servers? Much like the Internet, probably 90% if useless or redundant to what's already available elsewhere... but maybe there are a few gems in the 10%? It's worth a shot putting more than a few thousand pairs of Virginia eyeballs on it.) If the government is going hive-mind on its intelligence services, maybe all those "corporate secrets" could use a little wiki treatment too? In the age of being able to reverse-engineer everything, from iPods to Coke's recipe to the human genome, is there really much point anymore in being so worked up about secrecy? In a world where increasingly the success of a company comes down to 2 Things, and neither of them is easy to replicate when someone gets it right, why not throw open the doors on all those "secret recipes" and "special sauces" and see if the wisdom of the many and the passion of a few outside the hallowed halls of [Fill in your company name here] can improve your product or service. [Thing #1: Operational Excellence, defined as continuously falling per-unit cost of production with continuously rising per-unit quality... with no negative social or environmental impacts. Thing #2: Customer Engagement, defined as proactive inclusion and reactive responsiveness to your past, present, and future customers] What have you got to lose, really? Your competitors already know WHAT you make or do in detail --- they did their research, took apart your widget, tried out your service, tasted your entree, or whatever, long ago. It's HOW you do what you do that is very very very hard to replicate ---- so keep the operations and the customer engagement methods under wraps, and throw open the product or service editing process to the world. It'll probably get better faster than if you hired another "distinguished engineer" or MBA for your product development team. I remember an excellent example of this concept applied to one of my favorite products: "Open Source Beer". They let the masses determine the recipe, and refine it incrementally over time. (Thing #2). Then they brew it and distribute it at lowest cost. And to lower production costs even more, they let anyone brew it and sell it as long as they get a cut of the proceeds back. (Thing #1). Awesome. Lawrence Lessig wrote about it in Wired. Makes me want to go to Denmark to have one. And it probably tastes a grillion times better than any American macro-brew. And I love the mantra, repeated ad nauseum by lifers from certain large software companies, that "The customer doesn't know what they want until you give it to them." That's a nice way of saying "We're smarter than they are, so we don't need to ask them because we're going to get it MORE right by thinking it up ourselves than they will by thinking it up themselves." As opposed to the corporate secrets approach ("We can't involve our customers because this information is too sensitive or special for them to handle and for us to let go."), this philosophy takes it one step further ("We can't involve our customers because this information is too hard for them to understand in its raw form.") Hmmm. Really? I defy anyone reading this to think of a product from the last 20 years that isn't simply a better version of something - or several somethings - that existed before. And I guarantee you that somewhere on the Internet there is a person who wants to contribute to your product development process who is smarter than anyone else in your company. Let the masses step into your design studio -- and maybe show them a few blueprints (literally or figuratively, you get my drift). Give them a forum or a wiki and let them have at it. Pretty soon, you'll be getting so much value from the "massive anonymous genius" and the tools they use that you'll want to have them hanging out in your factory too. And since you'll be getting all that free input into your product design and improvement cycle, you will be able to get down to doing Thing #1 and Thing #2, instead of Things #3 - 1,000,000 (which is what most companies do). It might even be kind of fun to see where it goes. We've got our company's marketing messaging for Spring Creek Group up on a wiki for anyone to read, edit, improve, alter as they see fit -- we figured, "What the heck - why not? If anyone has a better suggestion for how to communicate what we do and gets the language better than us, then great!" We asked a bunch of our friends about our corporate logo and fonts through the review cycles while they were being designed, rather than paying thousands to a "brand design" firm.... and while it's not the flashiest logo in the world, it came out attractive and better than the two of us could have come up with on our very own. We're just starting to harness the power of more grey matter in our business. Sounds like our government is just starting, too. Here's hoping that they start to trust their customers a little more, namely us, and let more of their own information "be free".


Who Needs the Ratings Services?

This Newsweek piece raises an interesting question. Is there even a need to develop the 'Nielsen Ratings' of the Internet? If you ask a TV, radio, or print advertising person this question, the answer would most likely be yes. How else would you know what your ad inventory is worth? If you ask an online marketing person this question, the answer might be different. In a day and age where the traditional media businesses are in turmoil over the loss of their control over the time and place of content distribution and consumption, add ratings services like Nielsen and comScore to the list of media businesses with endangered models. The reason for this difference is based on the fact that the dominant forms of online advertising are performance-based. The ability to measure the effectiveness of one's ad buy in virtual real-time obviates the need for a predictive rating service. While the demographic and psychographic overlays in the Nielsen are interesting and somewhat useful to publishers, they have arguably little utility to advertisers online. Advertisers are monitoring impressions, clicks, click-through, conversion, sales, and contribution margin on every impression of every ad (if they're doing it right). In conjunction with standard analytics packages like Omniture or Google Analytics, the online media planning and buying process works quite well in the absence of any Nielsen ratings. They're superfluous.


What Wikis Do

We love wikis. Seriously, we do. Utilized effectively, a wiki can transform team collaboration and communication from a serial process of back and forth email and IM into a parallel process of efficient editing and enhancements. SCG provides marketing strategy, planning and execution services to our clients and we've found that using a wiki for both intra-SCG and SCG-client communications is a fantastic way to go provided the client has a basic understanding of wiki principals and a willingness to follow our lead at the beginning. Here are a few basic things we've done successfully with our wiki workspaces:

  • Create a centralized document management space for versioning and storage
  • Create a centralized notes board for all client meetings and phone calls. Everyone present at the meeting or on the call can contribute directly to the notes rather than having to pass around word docs from one person to the next for edits. The difference is night and day. What's more, with a wiki it's possible for people to engage in a conversation via the "comments" feature about the notes specifically and the meeting in general. Doing so adds much needed nuance and detail to essential project documents.
  • Use the wiki as a place for brainstorming around messaging, positioning, etc. We've published draft positioning and messaging information to a wiki and then encouraged our client to use the wiki to add/edit/delete as they see fit. What can be a painful and seemingly endless cycle of revisions suddenly gets transformed into a couple of days worth of work where the client takes charge and ownership of the process without getting bogged down. Truly a great way to go for this kind of work.
These are just some of the ways in which we've incorporated wikis into our core client-service methodologies and processes. If you want to learn more, here are a few wikis we've used and liked: 1. Jotspot - For our money, the best business wiki platform on the market. As far as we can tell, Jotspot's got the most complete featureset of any wiki platform available today. Combine that fact with its elegant design and intuitive ease-of-use and it's the first site I'd check out if you're interested in incorporating wikis into your workflow. Expect to hear a lot more about Jotspot in the days, weeks, and months to come as they were acquired recently by Google... 2. Socialtext - Not a bad option for business wikis either. However, the featureset feels much more limited than JotSpot and it's also got a lot more "wikiness" to it that might scare away the less technically-inclined users on your team. 3. Wetpaint - A fantastic wiki platform for online communities and groups. We tried using it for a client but quickly discovered that the permissions scheme stops short of creating a totally private wiki. So, if you need a private space for collaborating, Wetpaint's not the answer. If that's not a concern, then WetPaint is fantastic and extremely easy to use. What's more, it's free so it's a great place to get your feet wet and experiment. This is by no means a complete list but rather a summary of our experiences with three different platforms. Got anything to add?


How to Create a Community

"Community" must be the most over-used, under-realized term in the whole web2.0 thing. Billion-dollar valuations for those who successfully realize critical mass (somewhere north of 25 million registered and 50 million uniques, it seems), and innumerable theories about how to forward-monetize (i.e. generate revenue from) those that get bought. And for all the rest of the digital media sites and smaller etailers out there, "community" is often thrown around as a panacea for all that ails them: customer retention and repeat transaction problems, expensive customer acquisition, and an insufficient alexa ranking to sell on-site ads north of remnant rates. Here's how to actually create a viable, growing, passionate, valuable community of supporters of your product, service, or brand, with a few examples of those that have bootstrapped it to their benefit. And remember: it's not absolute valuations that matter, just improving the potential valuation of YOUR business relative to your competitors that does.... 1) Build a better mousetrap. Quality is the first step. Crappy products engender temporary passion. Good products create permanent commitment, because it's easier to use something again that works than it is to bear the risk of an unknown. See:

2) Charge more than it costs, but less than the value it creates. Great products create lasting value for consumers, and when there is more value delivered than captured (in price) consumers tend to start to get magnanimous and pass a little love along... in the form of word-of-mouth support. Commitment from day one to continuously improving costs helps. See: 3) Facilitate referrals. Don't force trial by non-users or prosletize, just make it easy for people to share. Whether online or offline, the lower the barriers to trial and the greater the ability for your customers to "pass it along" the more likely one good experience will turn into another. See: 4) Go multi-channel. People don't eat, drink, talk, sleep, move, work, write, listen to music, or do anything else in one place anymore. Be where people consume what you make - everywhere they consume what you make, and you'll get to seven impressions and one trial faster. See: 5) Blatantly encourage people to share their positive experiences with your product or service. There's an adage in philanthropy, "If you don't ask, people won't give." Well, if you don't ask people to tell others about how you're better than everyone else's products (assuming, of course, that you are, see Step 1), then it won't happen with the frequency you'd like. See: There you go. Go forth and make your own community. It's not easy, but if you do all of these things - and not just Step 3 - it'll happen.


The conversation about YOUR company is happening online right now... you better know where (and what they're saying!)

A few of us at Spring Creek found out this week about a rich, raucous, uncensored conversation that happened here about recent layoffs -- and the circumstances surrounding them -- at a local early-stage consumer casual games company. John Cook's Seattle Post-Intelligencer Venture Blog is reliably a solid place to keep tabs on local goings-on when it comes to early stage and tech companies... but the follow-on Comments posts that were made to his original "blarticle" (or is it an "artitog") made for much more exciting reading than the original story. This was like a flash-mob of vested interests that congregated and congealed around a touchy topic in the space of just a few hours. The speed with which the follow-on story about the circumstances of the layoffs and the internal (and newly external) reactions to the layoffs hit the web (5 hours) was vastly faster than the original news was shared of the company's decision (30 hours or so, for Cook's blog at least). Interesting -- news travels fast, but reactions to the news travel faster. As we often talk about with clients in the context of our BrandCast services, an ever-greater volume of important -- and unvarnished -- conversations are happening about companies of all sizes online... in the blogs, forums, and communities out there where people trust that the medium is "free and fair". Companies -- and their representatives -- ignore these conversations (or try to control them via "anonymous" posts, which are quickly called out for what they are, proving that transparency is less damaging than veiled bias) at their peril. In the long run, your brand equity is the only asset you truly must preserve, manage, and improve.

Online Ad-Base Business Models

Today's article in the WSJ about online ad-based business models (or lack thereof) reinforced three growing beliefs of mine which are:

  1. The Importance of Brand. Without a terrific brand that signals quality, entertaining, and relevant content, it's proving to be very difficult to make a lot of money as a publisher selling online ad inventory.
  2. Monetization = Ads + Subs. Online publishing business models will increasingly resemble business models in the cable, magazine, and newspaper industries. Advertisers will pay for targeted ad impressions while consumers will pay for high quality, informative, and entertaining content. Publishers running at a profit will find quickly a model somewhere along the continuum of ad-based and subscription-based revenue streams.
  3. Consolidation is Happening. I'm as much a fan of the concept of the long-tail as the next person but I do believe that a missing dimension to the discussions of this idea and its commercial implications is the relationship between content relevance and quality. Ensuring the former is something Google is terrific at while the latter is proving to be much more elusive due to the perverse incentives driving a significant amount of the SEO activity today. As long as there's an economic incentive to appear on the first page of search results, then individuals and businesses will compete aggressively (and in some cases unethically) to ensure that links to their sites appear on page-one. If left unchecked, the poor reliability of search results will drive more and more people to the sites and brands they trust to deliver the content for which they're searching. In order to deliver on this promise, these brands must then ensure they've got people on board that can produce high quality content for their audiences. If you buy this argument, then consumers get higher quality content, talent gets exposure and compensation, publishers get distribution, and advertisers get audience. Or something like that...


"Start with the consumer..."

Terrific piece about Nike interactive marketing in Ad Age. My favorite quote:

"We do not start with the medium," Mr. Edwards says. "We always start with the consumer and then look for the best ways to connect with them."
While every consumer company aspires to this ideal, Nike and Apple are two companies that clearly live it. One of the many remarkable aspects to the companies' marketing prowess and results is their ability to ensure complete alignment between the target market and the marketing mix (product, price, distribution, promotion).


Wal-Mart & Edelman

Transparency... Edelman, Walmart and the Loss of Control of Media

Be Transparent

There was an interesting juxtaposition of stories today involving the emergence of social networks as advertising platforms. For example, this morning I read this article at MarketingVOX about the increasing immunity of MySpace users to online ads and this piece (subscription required) in the New York Times that describes the accelerating popularity of social networks to marketers. The take-away for me is that marketers are going to have to work a whole lot harder and be much more creative than ever to reach members of this audience. This is also an indication of the fact that transparency is an increasingly important attribute of most brand identities online. Information is everywhere and its discoverable so trying to pretend otherwise by holding back or, gulp, deceiving an audience is a recipe for disaster. In the online world, brands and the companies that back them must be much more transparent, more accountable, and more eager to engage with customers. Sounds a lot like being a human being in the real world in fact...

Young Adult Panel - Hosted by Guy Kawasaki

Paul Kedrosky is correct, the topic and content of this panel discussion are fascinating. In addition to Kedrosky's take-aways, here are some of my own:

  • Context Determines Device
    • School/Work:Laptop
    • Games:PC
    • Communication:Mobile Phone
  • Text messaging is the most frequent mode of communication for teens when they're not sitting in front of a computer in which case IM is the hands-down favorite (see below)
    • Kids text message, adults e-mail
  • IM is the most frequent mode of communication for teens that are in front of a PC
    • IM is always on
  • Social Networking Sites
    • Primary benefit is to connect and stay connected
    • Friends in "Real Life" v. MySpace - The former overlaps with the latter but there is a big, salient difference betwen the two
  • Buying online offers convenience AND value
    • Purchasing is enabled by the availability of plastic - parents' debit and credit cards
    • Prices are better online because there's more transparency and information
There is much more to this truly fascinating (at least if you have a vested interest in online marketing) discussion, so check it out if you have the time.


Acquire Then Delight Your Customers

I started to write this post about passion - mine, our customers', and that of the company Clay and I are building. Then, "shiny object syndrome" got the best of me and I was distracted by this ClickZ piece by Bryan Eisenberg about the "death of the Web Page". While I wouldn't frame the issue exactly in this way, I do agree with the basic premise and conclusion that impressions are an antiquated and increasingly irrevelevant metric in the absence of other, more meaningful and relevant information about the effectiveness of marketing efforts. An earlier post about unit contribution describes my perspective as it relates to the core metric that marketers must rely upon to plan, execute, and optimize their marketing spend. I believe this more than ever. One of the interesting things about this is the structural barriers and frictions that are a drag on the transition from reach and frequency-based spend and campaign management to performance-based spend and campaign management. Clay and I believe firmly that performance-based marketing is the right way to plan and manage your marketing spend. Here's another thought to go along with the above. Be passionate. Challenge yourself to be more passionate about the problem your product solves than the people and/or businesses you're selling it to. More than operational excellence or product innovation, passion for your business, your customers, and solving important problems in your market is what will There is nothing more contagious, more viral, and more effective at driving awareness and sales growth than authentic passion for solving a problem for your customers. On the flip side, there are few things that will cause more friction in your sales efforts than an absence of passion for what you're selling. If you don't "get" your customers, if you can't figure out why they seem to like what it is your product does for them, then chances are your business has become about as big as it's going to get. In such a case, your messages don't make sense, they don't resonate, and they don't get passed on. You're stuck.


Web site Launched

Last night we launched the Spring Creek Group Web site. While we feel good about the general aesthetic of the site and the story it tells, we also recognize it is a work in progress. Please send us your feedback, suggestions, and ideas not only for how we can improve the site but also unmet needs in the marketplace Spring Creek Group should provide.


Spring Creek Group site in beta - feedback welcomed!

Ben and I are pleased to say that at long last (or our "long last", given our hyper-compressed schedules) we've got an active site up and running describing the company and our online marketing service lines. That said, bear with us - we're still firmly in beta with a host of editorial, design, and other edits still being made daily. If you find anything we should check out - broken links, typos, or other typical beta snafus, consider this a call to action to treat our email accounts as proxy-wikis for site edits. (And if you know what that means and you're not already part of the team, perhaps you'd like to visit our "Careers" page. Just kidding. Not really.)


Blogger Beta

Moved the blog over to the Beta version tonight. So far, so good. Lots of WISYWIG features that make setup and configuration a lot easier. Still not as easy as I would think to integrate in-line third-party bookmarking from the likes of Digg and Delicious. Also, I've found the scripting and AJAX a bit unreliable at times like when I spent 30 minutes building a blog roll only to have the app crap out on me and force me to start over. I know, I know, that's why it's called a Beta.


First Law of Online Marketing

First Law of Online Marketing: Cost of Sale Cannot Exceed Unit Contribution After working for a company that manufactured, distributed, and sold kitchen and housewares products through retail, wholesale, and online channels, I gained a strong appreciation for the simplicity and utility of the unit contribution metric. Given how dynamic and complex marketing online can appear at first, returning to the very basic truth of how much money you are making/losing each time one of your products leaves the premises is essential. Unit Contribution: Price - COGS - Sales Commissions - Delivery Charges - Returns = Unit Contribution Contribution Margin: (Unit Contribution) / (Unit Price) = Contribution Margin If you're not doing so today, do yourself the favor and build a simple model in excel that enables you to quantify the unit contribution of each product you're selling. (For service providers, simply replace a physical good with a unit of time like an hour) With a better understanding of the unit contribution per product and the weighted average unit contribution across the portfolio of products, you'll be much better equipped to make fast and sound investment decisions relating to online marketing tactics and programs. Scoble writes about this emerging realization here

I am not a consumer! I am a free man!

Interesting piece by Dave Evans on the need to integrate one's thinking and strategy when considering the roles that interactive media can and should play in most marketing campaigns. While many of the points are valid and important, I think it, in typical marketer fashion, glosses over an essential insight we as marketers must always have when thinking about going to market with a new campaign and that is this: the people to whom we speak are not consumers first and foremost, they are people. In fact, for the vast majority of us we are consumers far less frequently than we are fathers, brothers, classmates, colleagues, sisters, wives, and on and one. You get the idea. So, when thinking about reaching people where they live and doing so in a manner that speaks to them consistently over time, it's essential to remember this fact. Appealing to one's need to consume only works when someone is in their "consumer" persona. The rest of the time it's noise. Unless... Your message and offer speaks to them as if they were a real person with real thoughts, feelings, and aspirations. Apply this thinking to some of the most memorable and highly regarded marketing campaigns of recent years and I think you'll get my point. Consumers want the latest and greatest at a price while people want love, humor, and inspiration. Just do it. Think different. (HT to the 1967 UK TV Show "The Prisoner" for the title of this post.)

Only So Many Hours in the Day

Time online is rapidly displacing TV time in most American households. Multi-tasking is being enabled in new and interesting ways by the convergence of telecommunications, the Web, and social media. People can simultaneously publish and consume content, communicate, and make a living while riding the train to their day jobs, sitting in a coffee shop, or on a lunch break. This is what is exciting about the times in which we live. However, it is also true that there are still only 24 hours in every day and that nearly all of us have responsibilities that preclude us from spending all of our time consuming content and information online. I'm not exactly sure where the asymptote representing the maximum amount of time any individual will spend online in search of or consuming information but let's assume it's around 8 hours for the sake of argument. Some of this time will be spent by the individual in lean forward fashion - searching, clicking, scrolling, etc. The rest of this time will be spent in lean back fashion - watching YouTube videos, browsing MySpace, etc. It seems to me that the former context (lean forward) is the sweet spot for premium performance-based advertising. When people are in lean forward mode, they're much more likely to be searching for something to consume. They're effectively shopping for information which presents real commercial opportunities to advertisers. Maximum eCPM is the name of the game here. The latter context (lean back) is a bit trickier from an advertiser's perspective. In that context, a person is seeking a passive experience - they want to be entertained. As a result, they're less likely to be commercially inclined but more open to messages and content that could shape preferences. The value to advertisers here is, in my mind, about branding and large numbers. The effectiveness of ads in this context should be measured more in terms of the impression levels and frequencies. As video becomes more and more a part of the fabric of the Web, my guess is that lean back will displace a bit more of the time we spend today in lean forward mode. Right or wrong, the majority of us will choose a lean back experience over lean forward when given the opportunity. As more lean back content becomes available, many of us will spend more time watching and less time clicking. A few take-aways in all of this are that content producers still hold the keys to value creation online in either context. In the lean forward context, the leading search providers (in the broadest sense of the term) will continue to see consumer and advertiser demand accelerate. In the lean back context, the large aggregators and social media hubs like YouTube, MySpace, FaceBook, as well as big media (Disney, Time Warner, News Corp) will see traffic numbers and time-per-session continue to grow to the benefit of advertisers seeking opportunities to shape preferences and build brands (ie P&G, Toyota, Fidelity, etc).

Value, Customers and Efficiency

Jeff Jarvis has a terrific post about Web2.0 hype soon to be replaced by the realities of running an actual business. I've been convinced for some time that the rapid promulgation of thousands of 2.0 startups is driven by plummeting startup costs and the still low cost of money. This reality combined with the emergence of a plug-and-play revenue model (aka AdSense) means just about anyone with a PC, Ruby, and some spare time can get on Arrington's radar. To paraphrase Jarvis, delivering meaningful value to customers in an efficient way was, is, and will always be the ultimate determinant of success in the marketplace.

Words to work by...

A terrific tale from O'Reilly:

Recently, I was looking for a photo to illustrate a talk I was giving at a company meeting. I was telling the old story about three men working. A passerby asks them what they're doing. The first man grunts "working" and goes back to his stonework. The second man says, "I'm building a wall." The third man stops, gazes off into the distance for a moment, and says, "I'm building the most beautiful cathedral in Ireland."


Lessons from the field...

An important insight about integrated marketing in the Lamont-Lieberman contest from Matt Stoller at MyDD: There are also a lot of tactical lessons here in terms of turnout. The internet works extremely well when it's paired with an effective media and field campaign. The Dean campaign couldn't build the field operation in time, and the paid media side wasn't very good. For the first time with Lamont, we saw an integrated internet-message-field campaign, and it worked really well among its targeted universe. This makes sense. The media messaging created a context for conversation, the internet supplied that conversation, and the field campaign organized around that conversation. If you hear compelling ideas from enough sources, and then a friend asks you to act on those ideas, you do. Read the whole post here.